Vaulters raise bar for Hogs

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Arkansas junior Kevin Lazas clears a height during the pole vault Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, during the Tyson Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
NWA Media/ANDY SHUPE Arkansas junior Kevin Lazas clears a height during the pole vault Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, during the Tyson Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.

— There isn’t much new ground to break for Arkansas’ men’s track and field program, but the No. 1-ranked Razorbacks may have a first when they host the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships on March 8-9.

For the first time in the program’s storied history, Arkansas could have two pole vaulters competing at the NCAA indoor meet.

Andrew Irwin, a sophomore from Mount Ida who won the NCAA indoor title last year, and Kevin Lazas, a junior from Brentwood, Tenn., each cleared 17 feet, 9 inches in the pole vault Saturday at the Tyson Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center, which puts them in the top 10 nationally.

“History shows that [17-9] gets in at nationals every year,” said Doug Case, who coaches Arkansas’ pole vaulters, sprinters and multi-event athletes. “That’s actually why we jumped at that height. I’m pretty confident that will get them in,unless something extreme happens.”

Case said it would be “pretty cool” to have two pole vaulters competing at the NCAA indoor meet considering it’s never happened with Arkansas previously.

“You’ve got to take what you get at the University of Arkansas with firsts because a lot of things have been done,” Case said of a program that has won 40 national championships and 93 conference championships in cross country and track with 105 national event winners and hundreds of All-Americans. “We’re just trying to have a well-rounded program, and I think we’re making moves every year to get closer and closer to that.

“If you look at our overall team, we’re pretty good head to toe.”

In other highlights Saturday for the Razorbacks, senior Tarik Batchelor tripled jumped 53-9 for the best college mark in the nation this year and junior Anthony May won the high jump at 7-3 3/4, which ranks 10th nationally. May also triple jumped 51-4 1/4.

Oral Roberts senior Jack Whitt cleared 18-1 to win Saturday’s pole vault competition, with Irwin taking second based on fewer misses at lower heights and Lazas taking third.

While Irwin and Lazas both missed three attempts at 18-1, they said they were happy overall with their performances. Lazas, who has the nation’s top heptathlon score with 6,042 points at the Razorback Invitational two weeks ago, had his personal-best in the pole vault, which previously was 17-3 1/2.

“I’m super excited for the bar Kevin had today,” Irwin said. “That was a big bar for him, especially to be on the national list in this event when it’s not his specialty. We’ve been working with him a lot, and he’s come really far.”

Lazas said still considers himself a multi-event athlete who pole vaults.

“Pole vault just happens to be my best event in the multi,” Lazas said. “I think it’s the most fun, too.”

Case said the pole vault will be held after the heptathlon at the NCAA meet, so it’s possible Lazas could compete in both events, though no plans have been finalized.

“The hep takes so much out of you, but it would be awesome to go there and try the pole vault, too,” Lazas said. “We’ll just kind of see how I feel after the hep.”

Lazas said he has been clearing 18 feet in the pole vault during practice, so he wasn’t surprised by 17-9.

“I knew coming into this meet I was more ready than I ever have been,” he said. “I was happy with my attempts at 18 feet also. It’s always good to get attempts at the higher bar, because the more attempts you get, the more likely you’re going to be able to make it.”

Irwin, who lost two weeks of training earlier this season because of a hamstring injury, said he could feel himself rounding back into top form Saturday.

“All in all, it was pretty good,” Irwin said. “We just wanted to get a bar that was going to pretty much seal me in for nationals. It wasn’t the bar I really wanted, but it’s going to have to do for now.”

Case said he expects Irwin and Lazas to continue progressing and vault well at the SEC meet, which is also being hosted by Arkansas on Feb. 22-24.

“We’re not at the end of our rope by any means,” Case said. “We feel good about where we are with our training, and we feel good about what we’ve done in competition, and we’ve still got more competition left to jump higher.”

Highlights for Arkansas’ No. 4 women’s team Saturday included Grace Heymsfield, a junior from Elkins, winning the 3,000 in 9 minutes 12.25 seconds, senior Makeba Alcide taking second in the high jump at 6-2 and the 1,600 relay team of Reginia George, Gwendolyn Flowers, Sparkle McKnight and Martine Borge taking second in 3:31.78.

Sports, Pages 23 on 02/10/2013